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Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Topic: Predicaments of Early Republican LifeTopic: ReligionTopic: PoliticsTopic: ExpansionTopic: Equality
Topic: Predicaments of Early Republican Life
Overview of Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Resource Menu: Predicaments of Early Republican Life
Text 1. Benjamin Franklin
Text 2. Venture Smith
Text 3. Washington Irving
Text 4. Royall Tyler
Text 5. Benjamin Rush
Text 6. Noah Webster
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Reading Guide
6.  Noah Webster, Oration on the Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, 1802
   Noah Webster

Sobering and cautionary, this is not your typical Fourth-of-July speech. Webster wants to alert the nation to and protect it from the enthusiasms he sees in the Declaration of Independence and the contradictions he perceives in the Constitution. Webster considers "history and observation" the "surest guides in political affairs," and when he consults them, they cause him to worry about the future of the nation. Surveying the vast expanse of the past, he sees the failure of one form of government after another and asks, "If such has been the fate of all former systems of government, must we indulge the melancholy thought, that such is to be the fate of ours?" After calling into question the distinctive features that, in the opinion of most Americans, would save our government from failure, he asks, "Ought we to renounce our predilection for a republican government, and abandon, in despair, the experiment which our fathers have begun?" "By no means," he says, but as we move ahead, we should remember that "our revolutionary schemes were too visionary." If you want a carefully reasoned formulation of what the citizens of the early republic feared, add this speech to your syllabus. 18 pages.


Discussion questions
  ·  What does Webster fear?
  ·  What is Webster trying to achieve in this speech?
  ·  What is his rhetorical strategy?
  ·  What does he urge his listeners to do to avoid the dangers he has described?
  ·  How does his use of emotion comport with his reliance on "history and observation"?
  ·  How does he use the revolutionary generation?
  ·  If Webster looks to "history and observation" for guidance in political affairs, where does Jefferson look?


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Topic Framing Questions
  •  What was the nature of the society that formed in the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution?
  •  What did the citizens of the early republic hope for?
  •  What did they fear?
  •  How did they seek to balance freedom and order?




Toolbox: Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Predicaments | Religion | Politics | Expansion | Equality


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